Preseason Player Breakdown: Derek Elston

Derek Elston has had his moments in his first two years at Indiana, but then he’s had his moments. The athletic Tipton native has had moments when he’s appeared on the verge of a break through and others when he appeared lost. He is the subject of our next preseason player breakdown.

The Past

Elston’s statistics in his freshman year seemed to warrant more playing time. In just 15.1 minutes per game, he averaged 5.8 points and 4.1 rebounds, posting a better rebounds per minute average than anyone else on the squad. Two things kept him from more minutes. He was still skinny at around 6-9, 220, so he was at times overmatched inside, and he was often out of position on defense and struggled to understand rotations. He put on 10 pounds of muscle between his freshman and sophomore years, however, undergoing more of a physical transformation than anyone else on the squad.

But the 2010-11 season didn’t turn out to be the breakout year Elston was hoping for because of a number of reasons, some of which were out of his control. Elston headed into the year expecting to play mostly power forward because the Hoosiers had added a 7-foot junior college transfer in Guy-Marc Michel. Michel was declared ineligible, however, because he had played with a French professional team, and the Hoosiers were forced to use all three of their post players — Elston, Tom Pritchard and Bobby Capobianco — extensively in the center position. It didn’t help that all three were constantly in foul trouble, so none of the three averaged more than 18.2 minutes per game.

Instead of being one of the biggest power forwards in the league, Elston became one of the smallest centers. He still didn’t seem confident in rotations and was often out of place, and seemed to try to compensate with his lack of size with overexuberance which led to fouls.

Plus, Elston was dealing with physical ailments that were worse than he let on publicly at the time. Elston suffered through a sports hernia in his stomach all year before finally having surgery in June. He also dealt with what has been chronic knee pain, which hurt him every time he tried to get in a defensive stance. He gritted through it, but admittedly wasn’t himself. In 15.5 minutes per game, he averaged 4.9 points and 3.7 rebounds per game, both drops in average from his freshman year. He shot 51.2 percent from the field, but hit just three of his 17 3-point attempts.

The Present

Elston’s surgery was apparently successful, and at least in the summer he claimed to be closer to 100 percent health. He’s still one of the Hoosiers’ strongest and most athletic players, and he appears to have made at least some degree of progress in his basketball IQ. But it’s tough to tell exactly how much and how that will translate over the period of an entire season.

The Future

The addition of Cody Zeller means that the Hoosiers will likely need less from Elston than they were expecting to last season, but he will still serve an important purpose. The Hoosiers lost Bobby Capobianco over the offseason and failed in attempts to add another experienced post player, so Elston, Pritchard and Zeller give them just three true post players. Swingmen Christian Watford and Will Sheehey can help and spend some time at power forward, but for the most part, Elston will be the one giving Zeller and Pritchard relief. That means he’ll have to play significant minutes both the 4 and the 5.

To be effective in those roles, Crean wants Elston to be as bouncy as he was as a freshman and grittier. With healthier knees and minus the sports hernia, Crean thinks Elston can be the sort of grinder who is always on the floor for loose balls and is one of the team’s best rebounders. His hope is that he can change his mindset and truly process where he needs to be on helpside defense so he isn’t getting lost in rotations and putting himself in position to foul. If he can do that, he has some useful offensive skills, including range out to about 18 feet and sometimes beyond. With Zeller in the fold, Elston likely won’t be asked to be a dominant force, but with so little depth inside, his contributions will be critical.


  1. Dustin, your “Derek Elston has had his moments in his first two years at Indiana, but then he’s had his moments” I think is the perfect description. Nicely done.

  2. my god are you kidding me? why do iu fans insist on being so polite? elston is one of the worst players in the big ten how could anyone doubt that? boomer you say he’s had his moments the first two years? please let me know what games you were watching. robbie eggers had some moments also. this kid came in as a 4 star recruit and has gotten worse every season!! im sure he’s a great kid and a good dancer but i can say without a shred of doubt that he is the worst player that i have ever seen that plays substantial minets play for iu!! that includes tom pritchard!!

  3. He played OK for a freshman. He stunk as a sophomore but apparently that was due to playing through injuries. Let’s give him a chance to prove himself again, we don’t have any other choice — we’re short on bigs.

  4. hfk, my mother, God rest her soul, would be proud to know you think I’m polite. Well, I did see moments but don’t know that I can recite them chapter and verse. Mostly, Derek’s time on the floor was not notable at all, so I think that’s why certain “moments” stood out. And that’s why I thought Dustin’s comment really summed things up for Derek.

    For the good moments, I remember some blocked shots, some nice turn-around jumpers when we needed a basket and some key rebounds. I remember shouting, “Derrrrek!” (as in, way to go) numerous times. For the not good moments, I remember missed defensive stops, not rotating over, looking lost, his man scoring, lots of fouls and the “who, me, what’d I do” looks. I remember “The Trip.”

    Learning that he had lots of pain in his knees which made it difficult to maintain a low defensive stance and a stomach hernia that made it difficult to take contact, move laterally or jump causes me to realize that what we see with our eyes and think we know, isn’t always all that is happening. I think his injuries explain a lot of the not good moments, but probably not all of them. But how can we make meaningful comments about the way the kid played when we don’t know how extensively his injuries affected or didn’t affect him? I don’t think we can, so I was satisfied with Dustin’s comments as saying enough. Was his play disappointing? Yep. Do we know why? Nope. So why attack the kid?

  5. oh no im not attacking him i just stated what everyone already knows. he’s just a bad basketball player. no big deal im sure he would crush me in a game!! sorry about your mom. go iu

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